Family Rows

Today, 26 July, is the feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, the names traditionally given to the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and hence grandparents of our Lord Jesus Christ. Usually I manage to write something appreciative of grandparents and their role in our lives but today my heart is not in it. I am more conscious of the squabbles and rows consuming Church and society (and perhaps our own families and communities, too) to feel I can contribute anything positive. It is more than a mere energy lapse or fleeting feeling of ennui. It is a recognition of our helplessness in the face of much negativity, coupled with a desire not to give in to fashionable points of view simply because they are fashionable but ‘to test the spirits, to see whether they are of God.’

Prince Harry and the Royal Family

Take, for instance, something British readers and viewers will be only too well aware of: the very public row within the Royal Family in which the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are principals. (Did I say that neutrally enough? What follows is not neutral.) I am not a Royal-watcher; I don’t have any ‘side’ to uphold; but the way in which Prince Harry is behaving strikes me as childish and vindictive, likely to wound his grandmother the Queen, and certain to wound his father, Prince Charles.

I do not know what it is like to lose one’s mother at an impressionable age and under very sad circumstances, but I am beginning to think that the duke is actually exploiting the situation. It makes him different, special, confers on him the right to behave in a less than adult manner. And why? Because he has never learned the importance of forgiveness, of letting go, of truly being himself rather than a person for ever defined by a tragic event that occurred in his childhood. We are told he does not want to use his royal advantage, yet at he same time he makes full use of his royal privilege. Has none of the expensive therapists and counsellors to whom he has access suggested to him that the way to be truly free is, as I said, to let go of the injuries, real or imagined, done to himself? Will he end up a lonely old man, like his uncle, the Duke of Windsor, one entry in whose diary reads, ‘Spent all day watching Wallis buy a hat.’?

The Church and Traditionis Custodes

If the situation of the duke is tragic, what can I say of the Church following the issuing of Traditionis Custodes? Part of me wanted to leap into the fray, bristling with historical and liturgical insights born of long and sustained study and practical experience, or so I would argue; but I wisely held off, realising I needed to think and pray more; and now I realise that it would be arrogant and sheer folly to seek to add to the discussion. Arrogant, because there are others more learned and eloquent to analyse the text, the pope’s intentions and the complexity of the historical background of the Mass in the West. Folly, because I know my temper is on a short string — social media and email make it easy for people to engage in ways I find rude or patronising — and I do not want to say something I later regret or cannot put right.

Liturgy matters immensely to me, of course it does, but the way in which, by and large, discussion has been conducted has been deeply troubling. To speak of God and the things of God with hatred and contempt in one’s heart is not right. It is irreverence of the most terrible kind. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity within the Church, and the only way for any of us to approach it, metaphorically speaking, is on our knees. Bad or inadequate history, personal preference, fear of the unknown, they can blind us to the significance of words and actions and we can destroy what we most long to flourish. We forget, a little too readily, that every human being is entitled to respect and to his/her good name. Insults and accusations are not helpful.

This morning, therefore, I am praying for all families, natural and institutional, experiencing discord. Often it is a grandparent who sees most clearly and is best at binding up the wounds that are tearing everyone within apart. Let us ask the prayers of Saints Joachim and Anne to heal the divisions we experience and to give those of us who are older something of their grace and compassion, that we may meet every new challenge with wisdom and kindness.


21 thoughts on “Family Rows”

  1. Lots to ponder there. Many thanks for your words Sister. May the patient and loving Lord teach us all through His Grandparents and His Mother to pray and think before we speak.

  2. As usual, you are spot-on with this piece. I am not personally involved with either topic but it hurts to see the bitterness and anger displayed so openly in both situations, whether it’s the “four-book deal” negotiated to come out next year to milk media attention in the Queen’s Jubilee year, or the squabbling over Church issues at a time when Christians should be sticking together in our very uncertain world.
    I do hope that you will not be on the receiving end of criticism by anyone who has not read your article thoroughly.

  3. Thank you for this teaching, Dame Catherine. Your recognition of “families, natural and institutional” is very meaningful.

    in prayer and loving friendship,

  4. If only the rest of twitterdom followed your example (earlier example below from another well-known, but possibly sometimes fiery writer). I will rest in the peace of your words and not be tempted to add my piece!

    Ephesians 4:29-Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only that which is good for building up, that it may give grace to the listeners.

    • I don’t always follow my own advice, let alone St Paul’s, but I have never forgotten the earnestness with which D. Elizabeth Sumner, then abbess of Stanbrook, said: ‘One day we shall answer for every word we have spoken — every word.’

  5. It is very sad to watch this transformation of the cheeky, chirpy Harry into almost the complete opposite. Difficult to follow the twists and turns which have apparently brought him to this pass. I‘m thinking how many people have suffered heartbreaking losses and bereavements but have refrained from burdening the wider world with their troubles. How do they feel when they see this performance acted out for all to see? One thing seems to me to be certain: once Harry has purged himself of all his rage and anguish and in the process wrecked what family relationships he did have, he will realise what he has lost and what he can no longer put right. And then he will deserve our pity.

        • I hope so. It was your comment ‘Then he will deserve our pity’ that confused me. I ought to add that I don’t myself know Prince Harry and would not wish to be severe on him.

          • When dreadful events rip families apart and the actions of some lead directly to the death of the vulnerable it makes reconciliation extremely difficult. Those responsible find no easy way back and as time passes the road home gets more impassible. If/when the full knowledge of what they have done and caused dawns on them, their mental and nervous state does most definitely deserve pity.
            As yet, Harry is not aware of the damage he is causing, he is being carried along by the sense of needing to shield his wife and children from suffering as his mother did and as he continues to. The wider view is beyond him. But I fear for the moment when this does dawn on him..when perhaps those whom deep down he loves are no longer present to say this to. Then he will need our pity most urgently.

          • As I said, I don’t know Prince Harry, and I’m not trained in psychology, psychiatry or psychotherapy, although I do have a little knowledge of human nature. At least, I realise how unwise it was to to use him to illustrate a more general point!

  6. Very thoughtful Sr Catherine. I think that in the storms of family rows, when one is over 30, it’s time to let your parents off the hook. A person can still experience their feelings, work through their trauma with an experienced therapist, but, being forgiving, an adult and having the good sense to leave the parents out of expressing and acting out the trauma.
    Grandparents were and are marvellous, an extra source of love for a child, in a loving family. This is a bond to be cherished and facilitated. Too many grandparents are estranged from their grandchildren here in the U.K.,as shown on Gransnet.

    • I agree whole-heartedly. We can go in for ‘psychological archaeology’ as one of my friends called it, or as my mother used to say, when she heard yet another story of how someone’s life had been messed up a la Larkin,’Just blame Mummy.’ Grandparents are one of the most precious memories of my own childhood, and I wish every child were similarly blessed.

  7. I’ve just returned from a wonderful concert in Worcester cathedral where we heard two versions of the Stabat Mater and we followed the text carefully, then a new piece that quoted:

    ‘By God if wommen hadde writen stories
    As clerkes han witthin hir oratories
    They wolde han write of men moore wikkednesse
    Than al the mark of Adam may redress’

    And then I read your blog post. It seemed prophetic.

  8. I like simplicity. I haven’t read TC and don’t intend to. I see the Eucharist as Jesus instituted it at the Last Supper and the Mass as it was celebrated on the road to Emmaus. Similarly I don’t read a newspaper or watch the news because editors and owners have agendas, and love to stir things up so we’ll never have the truth about princes William and Harry.

    I do love being a grandparent and enjoying the time with our little grandchildren, especially as I was working so much when my own children were growing up. I love their simplicity and honesty, their energy and zest for life.

    Jesus asked us to be more like children – He knew!

  9. Prince Harry has followed the familiar path of going from ‘hero to zero’ and much of this led by the British press which, quite unlike him so it tells us, has never been ‘greedy, exploitative or shallow.’ There is now an equal and opposite reaction from some of its American counterparts. Neither is particularly honest or helpful.

    While some of the criticism seems to be justified, it is worth bearing in mind that much of the vitriol directed at Harry existed long before that rather ill-judged and self-justifying interview with Oprah or the putative book deal. This has included torrents of abuse from the sort of people who deemed him a ‘race traitor’ for marrying a woman of colour (God forgive them), and who now post openly that he should be executed for treason. What good he has done (his service in the military which was far more than decorative and his clear commitment to veterans and the Invictus games) has been ignored or even denigrated.

    That said, the behaviour of a young, wealthy, privileged man buying in without any irony to what has been aptly described as ‘the grievance industry’ suggests a degree of sulking and petulance, characteristics coincidentally for which his father is often known, as well as a self-pitying and still immature character which has proved rich picking for those who believe wounds (real or perceived) mean money.

    Wherever fault lies, and neither side has behaved much like a loving family, I pray Harry and his family can reach a measure of reconciliation and mutual forgiveness, that he is encouraged to seek self-awareness rather than self-absorption, and they recognise duty is best served by emotionally intelligent human beings. What is sure is that continuing to play Team Sussex v Team Windsor does not help anyone although a lot of people, as they say, are dining out on it.

    Sadly this seems also to be characteristic of the ‘discussion’ of Traditionis Custodes; featuring some of the same histrionic language of ‘victim’ and ‘traitor’. Let us pray for more charity and for the unity of our family which is the Church, and for all families.

  10. Having read Traditionis Custodes we can’t help but wonder whether it’s too little too late? If reading the vitriol causes dismay imagine living the experience as we did when a number of hard identity members, following their favourite priest, moved into our parish.

    The continued infighting within Catholicism, now splashed all over the media brings a sense of deep sadness and an urgency to pray for reconciliation between the two factions. Perhaps we need a “Vatican 3” with a total revamp of the liturgy. But then again, the current struggle has little to do with liturgy and more to do with wilfulness and personal preferences in a growing cult movement.

    We are now one year having left the RC Church and recent events such as led to the Pope’s letter, and the uncovering of unmarked Indigenous graves of residential school children in Canada with the RC Church’s reluctance to hand over records only reinforces our decision. While Jesus gave the keys to Peter, establishing the RC Church, who says He isn’t about to change the lock?

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